Christmas to carry on despite COVID-19

Ben Irwin

Some local seasonal traditions may look different this year, many are not giving up on holiday spirit

TULARE COUNTY  – The holiday festivities around Tulare County will look a little different this year, but many are still finding ways for a socially distant Santa to come to town. With toy giveaways, hot chocolate and candy canes and even the Grinch, towns and cities will still bring the holiday spirit while being mindful of the risks of spreading COVID-19.

Exeter will host a scaled-back version of its treasured tradition, the 29th annual Christmas Open House, Dec. 3, 10 and 17. After meeting with downtown merchants, Exeter Chamber of Commerce executive director Sandy Blankenship said they decided the open house will not include food being served at shops and eateries during the event, and will be limited to 25% capacity.

“The event will look different but those looking for an old-fashioned shopping experience with hometown hospitality will still be able to find it here in Exeter,” Blankenship said.

While Mr. and Mrs. Claus won’t be at Mixter Park this year and the antique fire truck rides will be missed, keep an eye out for Exeter’s newer tradition—the Exeter Grinch, who opened last year’s event plunging a detonator box that lit up downtown with half a million Christmas lights synced to seasonal songs. The purpose of the Grinch Street light show is to raise food and donations for the Exeter Food Closet and is sponsored by Harvest Wealth Group. Help “grow your heart three sizes,” as Exeter’s chamber is giving seasonal shoppers a chance to win $200 in gift certificates at their favorite Exeter shops. To enter, turn in a “passport” to the chamber with stamps from merchants by spending at least $10 at 15 shops before the final event Dec. 17.

Santa Night will look a little different in Lindsay this year, but Officer Adriana Nave and the staff at Lindsay’s department of public safety will host a drive-thru Santa Night at the Lindsay Police Department Dec. 4, starting at 4p.m. Toy giveaways, hot chocolate, candy canes and food vendors will be aplenty but will be delivered to cars, as Nave is asking everyone to stay in their vehicle, keeping COVID precautions in mind. Expect a few road closures around the police department building to make two lines for cars to enter the drive-thru at the police station.

Nave said Lindsay’s annual rib cook-off in November is usually a major fundraiser for buying toys for Santa Night, but because it was canceled due to COVID-19 this year, Lindsay’s police officers are donating their own money to make sure the kids get toys Dec. 4. Nave said they usually serve around 1,000 kids at Santa Night, and she hopes to do the best they can under the circumstances this year.

“I’m hoping we’re able to bring some smiles,” Nave said. “I got some volunteers from the high school and I just told them, ‘You guys will see what a good feeling it is to see these kids smile and the parents smile.’”

Mr. and Mrs. Claus will still find their way to Farmersville, where they will practice social distancing, giving away bags and local restaurant gift certificates at the annual Farmersville Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. The Kiwanis Club of Farmersville wants to continue their 30-year tradition of providing a free food giveaway event that has grown to serve over 250 families in and around Farmersville, hoping to brighten the holiday season in the midst of the prolonged pandemic.

Three Rivers’ St. Anthony Retreat will host its Festival of Trees Nov. 15-21, featuring Christmas trees from charitable organizations throughout the Central Valley.

The theme this year is Trees and Trains, and while St. Anthony Retreat hopes to be open by December, the festival will be 100% online. The trees will be at St. Junipero Serra Chapel on the Santa Teresita campus, with spotlight videos of each tree each night of the event for viewers to enjoy.

There will be an online auction for the trees until the evening of Nov. 21, when a live auction will start—still virtually—at 6 p.m. The auction will feature trees from charitable organizations, notably The Independence Fund, which provides high-tech wheelchairs for wounded warriors; Dr. Davidson’s Veterinarian Fund, which helps low income families afford expensive veterinary procedures for their family pet; and Happy Trails Riding Academy, which provides therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with physical, mental and cognitive disabilities. All are welcome to bid on the trees.

The 30-plus-year tradition of sleigh rides in Woodlake won’t end this year, but Fire Chief Anthony Perez said the event will have some changes to minimize the risk of getting anyone sick. Santa’s sleigh will cruise down every street in Woodlake on Dec. 19, but for one day instead of four. Santa won’t be stopping at any houses this year to give out candy canes, but he’ll still be waving to all the kids as he goes by.

“I’m just glad we’re not letting go of the long-standing tradition for Santa’s sleigh,” Perez said.

Woodlake Fire Department will still raise their Christmas tree outside the station for a tree lighting Dec. 4, but Perez said unfortunately the event will be closed to the public.

Start typing and press Enter to search